aboriginal tribes brisbane

This is an historical account of Brisbane aboriginal tribes by an early resident of Brisbane, Archibald Meston who documented aboriginal tribes, their language and customs.

Aboriginal Indigeneous Tribes of Brisbane and Moreton Bay

Painfully conspicuous in the early his story of the Moreton Bay tribes was the amazingly rapid extinction of the Brisbane aboriginal tribe. When Tom Petrie was giving evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in 1881, he said there were only five of the Brisbane indigenous tribe left alive, though there were at least 200 about 20 years before. He ascribed their decline to drink, disease introduced by the whites, and exposure to lying out in cold and wet after drinking sprees.

In the early penal days, when the blacks first made friendly terms with the whites, they came in from all directions, and mixed together in promiscuous groups, finally ignored their severe territorial laws, tribal distinctions, and exclusive dialects.

The vocabulary given to Ridley in 1854 by Tom Petrie represented four different dialects, but was all given to Ridley as one dialect, what Petrie called "Turrubul," in which the  negative was "Waccah." This was the result of the dialects being mixed before Petrie was old enough to acquire a knowledge of the language.

Petrie, in 1881, said he had been 26 years in Brisbane, so he was about 35 when I met him in Brisbane in 1870 on my first visit to Queensland as a youth of 17. He was introduced to me by a gentleman named Wilkie, an officer in the Treasury, whose brother's wife, Mrs. Wiseman Wilkie, was for years a popular Brisbane singer and pianist.

The "Yucum" dialect spoken by me was nearly quite unknown to Petrie and his 'Wacca-Wacca' dialect was nearly as unknown to me, yet we had two most interesting interviews, but the subject of names, dialects, and vocabularies is referred for the next article.


My carefully considered estimate of the probable number of blacks, when the whites first arrived, gave five thousand inhibiting all the country between the Caboolture River and the Logan, down to the sea at Cleveland, and back to the Dividing Range That area actually represented two dialects, the Wacca Wacca and Cateebil.  Moreton Island had from six to eight hundred and Stadbroke about 800.

On my visit to Bribie in November, 1870, crossing to Toorbul Point, there were about 100 blacks camped at the south end, a lot of fine men and women.  They told me there was another mob at 'Taranggeer,' the' White Patch' and a few more at the north end, but that old tribe of 'Joondaburri' must have originally numbered at least 600.

They were the most war like of all the Moreton Bay tribes, and a terror to the mainland blacks. Though friendly to Flinders and his men, who had fired at them on a previous visit, they behaved handsomely to Pamphlet and Finnegan, the white men who discovered the Brisbane River, but afterwards  they killed several white men and had a bad reputation.

Today the 'Joondaburri' are extinct, the last, woman being known to the whites as Alma, a woman of fine physique and fine character, who lived near Toorbul Point and had charge of some lights in Bribie Passage.

She was married to a white man and had a highly intelligent, good looking family who survived her. The last men of the 'Joondaburri' were two brothers well known to the whites as Bob and Adam Clift, their native names being ”Cangando" and "Wityee ".

Adam involved himself in some trouble through giving his spouse a too severe tap with a nulla, and went into a short retirement at St Helena, in the days of the governorship of Mr Ryan, who is happily still alive, and he will remember that he remonstrated with me in a polite but firm manner when I called to see Adam and conducted the dialogue in the Coobennpil dialect of Stradbroke Island.  He said it was "clean against rules “ but the subsequent whisky at the genial Hibernian's house was in no way affected.

Fine Specimens

While at Brisbane I paid a visit to Ipswich and Toowoomba, and met some fine specimens of blacks at Laidley, Helidon and Murphy's Creek, all speaking the Cateebil dialect.  Much to my surprise, the Toowoomba blacks used the negative "Waccah," and spoke practically the same dialect as the 'Turrubul' of Petrie.

While there I took a vocabulary of 150 words, still in my possession, including 'Toowoomba,' from the 'toowoom' or the  little native melon, 'Cucumis pubescens', which was growing everywhere. The Helidon blacks called it 'choowoom.'  The Toowoomba aboriginal well known as 'Paddy Perkins,' whose native name was 'Boondow', was then a young man about 20. He knew me in a second, 21 years afterwards, and he and I met for the last time at the scene of the Gatton tragedy.

From Brisbane I went to Pimpama in Cobb's coach, driven by 'Flash Harry,' starting from Johnny Graham's Hotel in South Brisbane.  Pimpama was the terminus, the hotel there kept by Drew, and the store by Lenneberg.  From there I rode to Benowa sugar plantation, owned by my brother in law, Robert Muir.

This brought me back among the blacks speaking the dialect familiar to me, the 'Yoocum Yoocum,' extending from the Logan across Nerang Creek, the Tweed, Brunswick, Richmond, and Clarence, to near the Bellenger, and over all New England, the most extensive dialect in Australia not even excepting the 'Kamilroi' and 'Wirradjerie'. There must have been 200 blacks  in Nerang in 1870.

Muir named his plantation from the Aboriginal name of the blood wood, 'Bennowah,' which he spelled Benowa. The Cateebil dialect, north of the Logan, called bloodwood 'Boonah', the name of the present town ship on the Dugandan line. There were some fine men and women among the 'Talgiburri' and 'Chabbooburri' tribes of Nerang but today they are extinct. Among them at that time was a young Talgiburri black, about 20 years of age, very expert with the boomerang (bargann), the shield, and nulla.

Many Brisbane people in present years will remember a black known as 'Lumpy Billy' who threw the boomerang some times in George street and other places and always wore a coloured, handkerchief round his head.  Dr Joseph Bancroft offered to remove the growth, but Billy would never face the ordeal. 

He was called 'Yoocum Billy' because he spoke the Yoocum dialect of Nerang, but the name given to him in the Bora Circle was 'Dilmiann' He went to the scrubs of the Logan, and made 50 return boomerangs for me, under contract, and they were all first- class specimens.  He was the Nerang ?outh of 1870.

The last surviving Brisbane district blacks included old 'King Sandy,' whose native name was 'Gairballie', 'Old Sam,' whose name was 'Pootlngga'; 'Billy the Tracker,' 'Wamgool,' 'One Eye a Jack,'Yeerimbamm,' and old 'King Fred,' whose name is forgotten for the moment, though among my records.  These names are just as pathetic, and quite as much memorials of our now extinct tribes, as 'William Lannay' and 'Trugauini,' of the 'Lost Tasmanian Race.'

Vanished Tribes

Now our aboriginals are extinct on Bribie, Moreton, and Stradbroke Islands, and all  the Cateebil and Waccah tribes are vanished, for the only pure aboriginal woman survivor of the old Yoocum speaking races of the Logan, known to me, Is 'Old Ellen,' 'Geenjohbin,' whose photograph was taken for me in my presence two years ago, but even she may have joined her vanished people.

On my first visit to Stradbroke, in 1870, there must have been at least 500 blacks on the island.  A Nerang Creek black of the Talgiburri tribe and myself were ferried over to the south end of stradbroke by a man named Gardiner, finally killed in a dynamite explosion at Southport, and we walked north along the east to Amity Point.

We met a party of blacks at what is now called 'Jumpinpin,' which they called 'Joombimbim', a big swamp, and they came with us to Point Lookout, a beautiful spot which will one day be a favourite resort.

A party of about 60 blacks were camped there fishing and that morning they had got a big turtle, two red wallabies, and some magnificent fish I had never seen before and did not see again for 30 years on my next visit.

They called it 'gnarrim-choora-gnan,' which grows up to about 50lb., a handsome fish with terrible teeth, and tastes like a giant mackerel. Two days with that crowd of happy, healthy, hospitable people, and we resumed our walk to Amity Point, which had a different appearance to that of the present day.

- Archibald Meston

brisbane aboriginal tribes and indigenous tribes